Following Saturday's adrenaline-fuelled stage 1 opening sprint finish, the battle for the race leader's yellow jersey at the Tour de France continues in Brussels on Sunday with the stage 2 team time trial around the Belgian capital.
The contre la montre par équipes is only 27km long and will be covered in just over half an hour, but there is so much at stake. Some teams will be simply chasing the glory of a prestigious stage victory, while others will be hoping to cancel Mike Teunissen's 10-second lead thanks to his stage 1 victory, and so quickly take the yellow jersey from the Dutchman.
The general classification battle will also play out as the big teams and their big-name team leaders try to gain as much time as possible if they are well drilled in the art of time trialling, or limit their losses if they look at the discipline with fear and dread.
The Brussels city-centre course is flat and fast – very flat and very fast, making it a battle of speed and technique.
The 27-kilometre course follows a loop to the south-east of Brussels before turning north, crossing over the early kilometres of the route via a flyover and then heading directly towards the Parc de Laeken for the finish in the shadow of the stunning Atomium structure.
It includes a few roundabouts and fast chicanes, but also lots of long, straight sectors on wide roads, where the best teams will push their average speed close to 60kph. If the weather conditions remain warm and dry, we can expect a new record average speed for the Tour de France, bettering the 57.841kph average set by Orica-GreenEdge when they won the 25km TTT in Nice during the 2013 Tour de France.
With eight-rider teams in the Tour de France, times will be taken on the fourth rider to cross the line, forcing the teams to control their effort with discipline. If any teams fall apart during the high-speed efforts, or if a rider punctures when they are already down to four riders, then the clock will run painfully slowly until their fourth rider crosses the line.
Every second will count
The Brussels course is perfect for another showdown between the best-drilled and most powerful teams in this Tour de France.
Last year in Cholet, five teams finished within 11 seconds of each other, with BMC taking the spoils by four seconds ahead of Team Sky and seven faster than QuickStep.
BMC have become CCC Team and are perhaps not the same force they once were, while Deceuninck-QuickStep are arguably stronger than ever and have Elia Viviani, Michael Morkov, Yves Lampaert, Kasper Asgreen and Julian Alaphilippe in their line-up. Despite faltering in the stage 1 sprint, they remain the favourites for the stage victory and are the team to beat. Viviani's disappointment at finishing ninth in the sprint behind Teunissen could be cancelled if Deceuninck-QuickStep can beat Jumbo-Visma by 10 seconds. The maths is simple, but producing the performance is a little more demanding. Jumbo-Visma could strike again and even strengthen Teunissen's lead.
Mitchelton-Scott, Bahrain-Merida and Team Ineos are also contenders for the stage victory and so could take the leader's yellow jersey and help Adam Yates, Vincenzo Nibali, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal, respectively, gain time in the overall classification.
Every other team with an overall contender will be looking to limit their losses to those four, riding with the fear that a simple mistake, a touch of wheels or a puncture could massively compromise their Tour de France.
Movistar's experience and consistency in team time trials could help Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa limit their time loss to less than 30 seconds, but Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Roman Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) could lose significantly more.
It will be interesting to see how much time, if any, Astana and Jakob Fuglsang lose after the Dane's late crash on stage 1, and how EF Education First help Rigoberto Uran and Tejay van Garderen.
Thomas is a superb time triallist and a former team pursuiter on the track, and will be one of the engines at Team Ineos despite his late tumble on stage 1. He knows that pacing as a team is far more important than one strong rider ripping the team to pieces by increasing the speed when he hits the front.
"You want one speed and momentum, so the length of the riders' turns are varied based on their ability so that there are no fluctuations," the 2018 Tour de France winner explained before the start of the Tour de France. "There will be a lot of strong teams finishing close to each other – within a matter of seconds."
Just how many seconds and what the time differences could mean will be revealed on Sunday afternoon.
2019 Tour de France stage 2 TTT - start times
|3||Astana Pro Team||14:40:00|
|5||AG2R La Mondiale||14:50:00|
|7||Total Direct Energie||15:00:00|
|12||Cofidis Solutions Credits||15:25:00|
|19||EF Education First||16:00:00|
|21||Wanty-Gobert Cycling Team||16:10:00|